By Jane Smith
Coastal residents who live near the FEC tracks will have until at least late June to continue listening to loud train horns from Brightline passenger trains and FEC freight trains.
In mid-April, Brightline said its subcontractor was diverted to Miami to complete safety upgrades before its train station would open there. That news meant the quiet zone work was delayed in five South County cities: Lantana, Hypoluxo, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
Brightline simulated service, testing without passengers, began in late April between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
The quiet zone construction can include quad gates or a raised median between travel lanes to improve safety at the crossings. The county’s Transportation Planning Agency is paying for the construction. Individual cities will have to cover the maintenance costs.
Once safety features are installed, the cities can petition the Federal Railroad Administration about their intent to install quiet zones. Federal officials then need 21 days to review the plans and decide whether the safety upgrades are sufficient to allow train operators to stop blasting their horns at the crossings.
“During that time, final inspections take place and warning signs are posted at crossings to indicate that trains do not blow their horns,” said Malissa Booth, spokeswoman for the county TPA.
Brightline officials had promised last summer that the quiet zone work would be finished before the express passenger service started.
But in January, Brightline service began between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale at speeds up to 79 mph in Palm Beach County. In mid-April, the quiet zone work was finished in West Palm Beach. That city then applied to the federal agency for quiet zone approval and allowing the trains not to blast the horns when traveling to the West Palm Beach station.
“It is important for the public to understand that quiet zones replace the routine blowing of train horns,” Booth said. “Conductors always have the option to blow horns as they deem necessary. There still may be occasional train horns.”
Since Brightline passenger service began, four Palm Beach County people have been killed by the trains. Two men, one in Delray Beach and one in West Palm Beach, were deemed suicides. Another woman was killed trying to beat the train across the tracks in Boynton Beach; a male cyclist also was killed in Boynton Beach after he rode around the down crossing gates.
Brightline runs 22 passenger trains daily between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in both directions starting at 6 a.m. Freight trains run along the Florida East Coast railway primarily at night. South County coastal residents who live near the FEC tracks often complain about the loud horns.
In downtown Delray Beach, the city is trying to balance the safety needs of Atlantic Avenue visitors with the noise level endured by downtown condo and apartment dwellers.
Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia favors petitioning the federal agency to install quiet zones. Too many residents live in condos and apartments downtown for the city to ignore their noise complaints, she said.